World Cup 2014: Manaus pitch 'fine' for England opener

By Phil McNultyChief football writer in Manaus
BBC sports news correspondent Natalie Pirks takes a closer look at the pitch

The pitch at Manaus's Arena Amazonia will be perfectly playable for England's World Cup opener against Italy on Saturday, the Football Association has been told.

Concerns had been raised about the condition of the playing surface because of dry brown patches and the sight of a groundsman applying green spray to the pitch on Thursday.

However a report by the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) says the pitch will be suitable for Saturday's game despite its aesthetic appearance.

The STRI is not only co-ordinating pitches at the World Cup but also has an individual relationship with the FA after working alongside it at Wembley and its Urca military base training pitch in Rio.

Ground staff appeared to spray the Manaus pitch with green paint.
Ground staff appeared to spray the Manaus pitch with green paint on Thursday

The organisation's report, which was sent to the FA, has more than satisfied the English game's governing body, which felt no need to send anyone to inspect the surface after the party landed here in the Amazon rainforest on Thursday.

Manaus's pitch has been at the centre of debate in the build-up to the game, after pictures emerged of the surface looking bare and in poor condition.

As Ben Brown reports, the Manaus pitch is not the surface players will be used to

Global players' union FIFPro claims the pitch is unsuitable, while the head groundsman responsible for the surface has admitted the pitch was in "bad shape".

But the FA has never seen this as a major issue because conditions would be the same for both sides and there was nothing that could be done at this late stage anyway.

England's players did some light gym work and stretching after their arrival in Manaus then watched the opening World Cup game between hosts Brazil and Croatia in Sao Paulo.

The team's sports science department did not feel England's squad needed a heavy training session after getting the longest flight they will make to a game in the group stage out of the way.

The Arena Amazonia
The head groundsman at the Arena Amazonia admitted the pitch was in "bad shape"

The players will train on the Manaus pitch on Friday.

Earlier, FIFPro said in a statement: "The players deserve a quality playing surface. This isn't the case in Manaus."

BBC sports news correspondent Natalie Pirks was present when the work to spray the surface was carried out.

"So there's a reason the pitch here in Manaus has looked much better today, they're spraying it with paint," she tweeted.external-link

Pirks, speaking inside the venue, added: "They are working frantically to get this match ready. They're covering every blade of grass.

"To be honest it doesn't look nearly as bad as we were led to believe."

"The maintenance has been complicated," said Carlos Botella, head groundsman for the Royal Verd company, which is responsible for the turf at Manaus.

A view of the Arena Amazonia, where one area of the pitch is visibly drier than the other

"There are no roads. All the machinery and materials had to be brought by ship. There was no fertilizer and no seeds.

"Now we have put fertilizer down. We will increase the fertilizing process with biostimulants and seeds to try to get the most out of the grass."

The stadium, which holds around 40,000 people, was constructed last year.

It is due to host four World Cup games, including the Group G fixture between the United States and Portugal on 22 June, although this weekend's fixture is by far the most high-profile.

The Arena Amazonia
A Fifa source has said the pitch in Manaus is barren in parts because of "excessive use of fertiliser"

A Fifa source said the problems had been caused by "excessive use of fertiliser" but added that the issue was "largely cosmetic" and there was no question of the Group D game not taking place.

England striker Wayne Rooney was unconcerned, saying: "It's the same for ourselves and Italy, so we'll both have to deal with that."

Goalkeeper Joe Hart added: "I think they've worked day and night over here to make it the best it can be. We've got to appreciate we're playing in the jungle, so we'll take anything."

The Italy camp has also been unconcerned by the state of the pitch.

The area around Arena Amazonia shows work remains undone ahead of England's opening game.
The area around Arena Amazonia shows work remains undone before England's opening game

"We're not planning to change our schedule," Italian delegation chief Demetrio Albertini said.

"We knew there was some burnt grass due to the heat but the colour of the grass doesn't really matter.''

After their Group D opener, which kicks off at 23:00 BST on Saturday, England face Uruguay in Sao Paulo on 19 June and then Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte five days later.

Workers take a break as they prepare the stadium at the Arena Amazonia in Manaus ahead of England's first game.
Workers take a break as they prepare the stadium at the Arena Amazonia in Manaus.